This Easter Sunday, the woman I’m named for went home to Jesus. We traveled to the salt-soaked shores of Ocean Springs, MS, to lay my grandmother Susie Wilkinson Moran, a resilient, loving, relentlessly blunt adventurer and faithful Christian, to rest. Her grave, next to my grandfather’s, enjoys the shade of giant live oak trees with gnarled branches laden with silvery Spanish moss and a view of the sparkling sun on gray-blue ocean waters and marsh grass. Her visitation ran for 2 hours and 45 minutes, way over the estimated time, and the church was full to bursting with people; you can read of her life of service and love in her obituary. Our family, and indeed the town of Ocean Springs, MS, will never be the same without her. There simply are no substitutes for Susie Moran.
I knew her as “Sumama.” She called me “namesake.” Our family tradition includes naming the eldest daughter Susie or Susan in alternating fashion; my daughter Susan is the 6th person to carry on this legacy.
When you are named for someone, you can’t help but think how else you might be like them.
I hope I have a tenth of her heart for serving others. Each Sunday after church, Sumama traveled to 9 nursing homes–nine!–to deliver church bulletins and sit and talk with people who had few, if any, visitors. She brought cakes and pies to people suffering from loss of loved ones or injuries after car accidents or cancer diagnoses or bad days. Sumama served on dozens of committees and charitable organization boards.
Sumama wrote. Her weekly letters began with “dear ones,” and contained paragraphs of updates on her town and organizations she served. She edited my undergraduate dissertation and read my doctoral dissertation, providing suggestions and above all, questions. Though fiction is my playground, I hope to write as consistently and meticulously as she did.
I also hope I have at least a modicum of her curiosity. She asked questions endlessly, fearlessly. She never seemed to care if a question might make her seem uninformed or silly, or even if she’d asked it before. Sumama adored museums and tours and college cafeterias; in short, any place meant for learning. She was on a nonstop quest to learn more about everything.
Physical boundaries didn’t hold her back from exploration, either. My siblings and I have stories of her sneaking us in to properties late at night, sometimes past a locked gate or over a fence, to show us something. She traveled widely, making it to 6 of the 7 continents, with souvenirs and stories and photos that bespoke adventure and hilarity. One of my favorite trips with her was her gift to me upon my high school graduation: touring Australia and New Zealand for 3 weeks. She, my mom, and I climbed Sydney Harbour Bridge, wearing bulky harnesses and big grins, in early evening just as the stars came out. She cheered me on as I ran the 6-odd miles around Uluru, Ayers Rock, as its windswept carvings shone orange-yellow in the morning sun. When I had no close-toed shoes for a fancy dinner, Sumama let me borrow her black boat-shoes to fly under the radar. My sense of adventure was just short of hers, as demonstrated when she hassled me for being too chicken to go bungee-jumping. (She would have gone herself, she said, except for that pesky hip replacement.) Perhaps I should have mentioned that all this occurred when she was a young 69 years old.
Now, at age 85, she’s reunited with my grandfather, who was parted from her abruptly when she was only 45, and she’s in the presence of the Lord Almighty, who she served faithfully.
It’s tempting to compare a life like that with my own and go wow, I need to get my rear in gear! She did so much with the time she was given. It’s both daunting and motivating to consider what an obituary for me might read. Will I have served my God with the same level of dedication and resilience? Will my life tell the story of using what I’ve been given, whether trial or treasure, as Sumama did?
The pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Ocean Springs shared the parable from Matthew 25:14-30 of the master who gave his servants varying amounts of talents (an ancient Greek currency which conveniently is a synonym in modern English for gifts or abilities–a coincidence? I think not! God teaches us in so many ways). Some used their gifts, another hid them. What we do with the talents we’ve been given does not determine whether or not the Lord loves us; however, it reflects our love for and trust in Him.
Sumama chose to overcome her personal tragedies by serving others and seeking to learn. To care for others, she used what she had: mundane things like church bulletins and irreplaceable things like her time. To me, time is the most precious resource; we cannot obtain any more of it than God has allotted. There are many demands on my time right now which are part of my calling as a mother, wife, educator, and more. Additionally, through prayer and weekly accountability goals, I believe I am meant to use the time to write, and write right now.
How else will I use what I have been given?
How will you?